The dress doesn’t make the monk

London Design Festival 2003 by Human Beans

It was a smart person who thought of combining the growing number of design events happening in September into a festival proper. Now, for the first time, the city never shy to claim itself the creative capital of the world has a festival to prove it. Well, we’ll drink to that, (and have been). Here’s to the London design festival 2004!

So London, creative city? Well, we think so but what was kept quiet during the week was that a recent assessment of creativity in UK cities put Manchester, not London, at the top of the list. Despite a shrinking design industry there’s still a lot of creative business here. Design, fashion, film advertising and the like, all based predominately in London, contribute £21bn annually to the UK economy, putting it on a par with the financial sector. Art and Design colleges in the city turn out tens of thousands of new graduates, attracted from across world every year.

The inaugural London Design Festival united established favourites, such as Designers Block, with new shows, talks and conferences–yet it was the more established shows that maintained the edge. The new jewel of the crown, the World Creative Forum, had trouble living up to it’s bold name. At £1, 250 + VAT a ticket, those who couldn’t go said it was overpriced, clearly not meant for designers, and didn’t look that exciting anyway. Those who did found it “underwhelming,” “unmemorable” and half empty.

This week the design industry reluctantly returned to work, all seemingly with the same headcold, their collective resistance lowered by an excess of free beer and infections spread fast by rampant socialising. From behind our hankies, we bring you the best (and worst) of the London Design Festival 2003

The London Institute, a collection of five art and design colleges, does more that it’s fair share to fill the city with young creative types. Future Map is it’s “Best of” show, and brings together the best work from across the courses and the colleges. Shown here is the delightfully extreme “Dress and Cat Hat” by Fashion Graduate Yurika Ohara from Central Saint Martins college of Art and Design.

We were touched by Georgia Dean’s, “Ceramics from Memory,” also from Central Saint Martins. The forms of these plates, jugs and pots are based on the shapes she asked people to draw from memory–a collection of tableware shaped by the collective unconscious.

At six years strong, Designers Block, as ever, was the soul of the week’s activities. Held in a different semi-derilict or part-converted venue every year, it returned to it’s spiritual home in the east end.

Taking part in Designers Block isn’t about volume sales–it’s about being part of something. The event, also held in Tokyo, Seoul and Milan, brings together a truly international community of experimental and hopeful young designers. It’s easy to be cynical of the underdeveloped ideas, but it’s amongst this kind of experimentation that new directions can be found.

Discovering Oxygenator in the basement of designers block was like finding the future–white goods gone biotech. Fans circulate air through four tubes of hydroponically-fed grass lit by fluorescent tubes, creating an artificial eco-system that can supply oxygen-rich air. We don’t know how you mow the grass, and we’re not sure if it really works, but we want one.

The PET bottle re-use system developed by Argentinean product designers Miki Friedenbach & Asoc. reminded us that design can do more than just make good-looking stuff. The tool, developed for use with street people living in Buenos Aries, can cut waste PET bottles into a spiral of plastic. The strips can be woven to create a fabric, used as brush bristles or made into lampshades as convincingly “designerly” as anything you might find elsewhere in the show. The big idea is to create a business model for the street people of Argentina. Already inundated with offers to sell the products, Miki is now developing systems to maintain quality in manufacture and talking sponsorship deals with drink manufacturers.

“Clay Station” ran four days of frantic stop-motion animation that anyone could join. They described it as “sort of a Morph meets Anthony Gormley meets Richard Dreyfuss (in close encounters of the Third Kind) sort of thing.” The resulting animation will be made into a DVD and available online at and

Despite having 1/4 tonne of plasticine stolen the night before opening, “Clay Station” was still brought to us by the the Design Transformation Group, Ma Industrial Design at Central Saint Martins, Edinburgh College of Art and Goldsmiths University of London. Police are now looking for a well-organised group of kindergarten students.

Design UK, the Pick of 2003, was held in the swankily refurbished Gainsbourough studios–the former film Studios of Alfred Hitchcock. Curated by Max Fraser, the show purported to pick the best design in homeware from the last year, along with some new launches.

Numb at the sight of even more furniture, even if it was of a high quality, we liked this modest selection: Bread and butter basket and cups in ceramic and wicker designed by Manchester-based designer Tim Parsons and made by the Berlin Institute for the Blind. Elongated clothes pegs for the elderly by Ole Olsen, and “W/sugar” mug in ceramic with sugar cube by French designer Koray Ozgen.

The flyer for this show promised “an exhibition showcasing Japanese- and British-based original ‘thinkers’ and ‘designers'”. Intriguing–how do you exhibit ‘thinkers’? in a David Blaine-style perspex case? But, as they say in France, the dress doesn’t make the monk.

It seemed that the British component were made up entirely from this year’s batch of RCA graduates . Best of show was Marloesten Bhomer with her stunning range of paradigm-shifting shoes in plastic and carbon fibre.

100% Design was the carpet-tiled showroom to Designer Block’s clubby playground, and an exit pole we conducted found designers creativity dropped an average of 7 points after visiting. But the pain was worth it, and, determined as ever to bring you the worst with the best, it proved rich hunting ground for the Human Beans ugly mug award.

Milan-based Japanese designer Ken Yokomizo’s Weairever–range of products was one of the stars at 100%. His bags and clothing, with subtly integrated ?LEDs, are designed for personal safety whilst walking or cycling. showed an impressive 30 working prototype chairs from it’s recent folding chair competition. Shown here: Clip Clap by Hee Welling of Copenhagen; Poly folding stool by Adrian Wright of London; Pascal Anson’s Pocket Chair which makes sitting truly mobile; Sitybike by Eli Chissick and Zohar Shoef from Tel Aviv, and the uber simple Pling by Wolf Udo Wagner from Frankfurt, a bent plastic sheet held in tension by a stainless steel wire.

Amongst a strong show of work from Belgium we liked Charles Kaisin’s ” The Expandable Bench” shown here in polypropylene but also on show in newspaper. The honeycomb structure allows significant change of scale and the unit can be unfolded into a variety of forms.

And the ugly mug award goes to this thing. The iMac bath, so behind the times we can only assume that it’s a bold move in future retro cool. Congratulations guys.



Yoonho Choi

independent researcher in design, media, and locality & working as a technology evangelist in both design and media industries

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